Qigong: The 15-minute meditation to maximise your workouts
Whether physically or psychologically, the gym can get us pumped. But have you ever considered the effects of not switching off post-workout? Enter Qigong, the ancient practice that promises to remedy a rigorous training regimen, improve overall health and restore vital life force energy.
Qigong (or energy work), is a form of dynamic meditation which is believed was first practised 4,000 years ago in China. It combines slow movement with mindful breathing and looks, to the untrained-eye, like lackadaisical tai chi. But don’t let the flow fool you, as this ancient method of connecting with and healing our bodies is being recognised by science as effective in lowering the heart rate, blood pressure and stress. It's also rated as an immunity booster, pain reliever and fatigue fighter.
And it’s Qigong’s growth in popularity as an antidote to rigorous exercise regimens that’s really piqued our interest. Here, Chinese medical practitioner and Qigong enthusiast Katie Brindle shows what this traditional technique can do to balance that workout.
Optimise your gains through ancient healing
If time is scarce the last thing we’re inclined to do is to dedicate 10 minutes either side of our workout to warm up and cool down but Qigong makes a compelling case for that kind of commitment.
A 2015 study found a significant improvement in participants’ strength, recovery and sense of wellbeing after practising Qigong for 15 minutes, five days a week, for eight weeks. Researchers focused on weight-training athletes and measured progress using their performance of front squats, deadlifts, vertical jumps and the bench press. But how exactly does a form of meditation deliver these glorious gains?
Katie explains: “It works the muscles and nourishes all of our organs but, crucially, doesn’t strain them. You boost your oxygen uptake and circulation while your body is relaxed.”
On a physiological level, Qigong facilitates muscle growth by increasing oxygen and blood flow, two vital ingredients when it comes to hypertrophy. So “if you’re happy with your exercise routine, you can feel the benefits from adding just a few minutes of Qigong to what you already do,” she says.
Give our yang some much needed yin
Don’t worry if your awareness of yin and yang begins and ends with cute ’90s accessories. This ancient Chinese concept is best described in translation: light and dark. It represents the constant dualities faced by both us and the natural world (think, you can’t have a rainbow without rain).
“Yang manifests as active, creative, masculine, hot, hard, light, heaven, white and bright,” says Katie. “Whereas yin is passive, receptive, feminine, cold, soft, dark, earth, black and shadow. The aim is for your exercise to both restore the nourishing energy that’s called yin and move the invigorating energy called yang.
“For example, a session at the gym or a hard run is very yang. This kind of vigorous exercise puts stress on the body, meaning you aren’t going to reach peak condition. But you can balance this out by restoring your yin, which switches off stress and re-engages your rest phase, allowing your body to recuperate.”
Qi: Connect to your life force
Qi (pronounced chi) is central to traditional Chinese medicine and describes the vital life force energy that surrounds everything. According to practitioners, connecting with our life force is essential in the pursuit of true wellness, and Qigong offers us an opportunity to do just that.
“It enhances our ability to feel the life force underlying the physical world and to deepen our communication with it,” says Katie. “Qigong is the ultimate self-healing technique; a way to manipulate qi around the body because, remember, for good health, we are always looking for our qi to flow as freely as possible.”
So we’re balancing our yin and yang, getting in touch with our qi and improving our blood flow and oxygen levels post-workout. But how do we access these holistic gains?
One of the many benefits of Qigong is that it requires no equipment and can be practiced virtually anywhere. Katie says: “Best practice is at least once a day and, ideally, first thing in the morning when yang qi is rising and the energy is strongest.
“Always practice outside if you can, as you are taking in quality qi from the fresh air. But, failing that, make sure there is an open window.”
Want to get started? Head to Katie’s Instagram at 8am, Monday to Friday, and you can be schooled by a Qigong specialist. Katie is also the founder of the award-winning Hayo'u Method and author of Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing.
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